â€ŽSegun James examines the politics of the controversy surrounding the appointment of members of the Niger Delta Development Commission board
Geographical balance is, relatively speaking, the strength of the Nigerian political landscape.
When the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was created as an interventionist agency to drive the development of the region that produces the oil that is the main sustenance of the nationâ€™s economy, government also ensured that top management offices in the commission are shared among the beneficiary states.
This has been delicately and politically maintained until recently when the news broke out that the tenure of the current board of the commission has been â€œextendedâ€ contrary to precedents
The crisis began when the Bayelsa state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) through its chairman, Mr Joseph Fafi, wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari protesting the purported extension of the term of the present board of the Niger Delta Development Commission.
According to him, the present board of the Niger Delta Development Commission was officially appointed on the 4th of November, 2016 to complete the remainder of term of the previous board in line with the provisions of Section 5(3) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment etc) Act.
Fafi stressed that the provision of Section 5(3) of that Act stated that â€œWhere a vacancy occurs in the membership of the board it shall be filled by the appointment of a successor to hold office for the remainder of the term of his successor, so however, that the successor represents the same interest and shall be appointed by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces subject to the confirmation of the Senate in consultation with the House of Representativesâ€
Fafi alleged that the present board of the NDDC came into office based on the provision of that section and it was supposed to complete the remainder of the term of the previous board that would end in December, 2017.
â€œSuffice to say, that the purported extension of the term of the present board of the Niger Delta Development Commission is done in bad faith and in fact runs contrary to the provisions of the Act that established the Niger Delta Development Commission.
â€œSir, let us also refer you to section 12 of the Niger Delta Development Commission Act, that provides for the appointments of the Managing Director and the two Executive Directors.
â€œSection 12: ‘There shall be for the commission, a Managing Director, and two Executive Directors who shall be indigenes of oil producing areas starting with the member states of the commission with the highest production quantum oil and shall rotate amongst member states in other of production.'”
He insisted that the Managing Director of the Commission had always been appointed in line with the provision of that section of the act saying, â€œIt will interest you to note that Delta and Rivers states have completed there 4 years term each as Managing Director of the commission, Akwa Ibom that has the present Managing Director would complete a 4 year term in December 2017 and it will be the turn of Bayelsa State to produce the managing director of the Commission for a 4 year term as the 4th in production quantum oil.
â€œBased on the above, any attempt to extend the term of the present board will amount to injustice, unfair treatment to the people of Bayelsa State, which in fact negates the principle of equity and fairness which our great party (APC) and the government of our dear President stands for.
â€œSir, as a party we worked very hard against numerous challenges to bring this government on board and we believe that it is our right to demand for what is legitimately due for our state.
â€œMay we please bring to your notice the possible consequences of this wrongful action if not stopped immediately: the purported extension of the term of the present board of NDDC would affect the smooth rotation of offices amongst member states as provided in sections 4 and 12 of the NDDC (Establishment etc) Act; It will cause disaffection amongst member states because Bayelsa State would feel usurp; and his purported extension may affect the relative peace we are enjoying in our volatile region because Bayelsa State is a major factor in the stability of our region and indeed Nigeria.”
APC in Bayelsa therefore urged the president to use his good office to stop “this injustice and withdraw the said letter extending the term of the present board because it is done in bad faith and falls short of the provisions of the NDDC Act.”
The state APC demanded that at the expiration of the term of the present board in December 2017, a party faithful from Bayelsa State be appointed as Managing Director of the commission because it was the turn of Bayelsa State in line with Section 12 of the Act that established the NDDC.
â€œWe are sure that you will treat this protest with priority and save us the effect which this action will have on the peaceful co-existence of the people of the Niger Delta region.â€
Shortly after the letter which was dated November 2nd, 2017 was submitted to the president, the Niger Delta Avenger, a militant group that had destroyed oil pipelines in the issued a threat to resume the destruction of oil production activities. Whether the threat by the militant group was a mere coincidence with the protest letter is not immediately clear.
The crisis began when the acting secretary to Government of the Federation, Dr. Mrs. Habiba Lawal in a letter dated 16th October, 2017 to Prof. Nelson Brambaifa appointing him as a member of the governing board of the NDDC stated that the appointment would take effect from 1st November 2017 and for a term of four year. The letter specified that it superseded an earlier letter by the former SGF, Mr. Babachir Lawal which stated that the board was only to complete the tenure of the present board which will expire in December 2017.
It was this letter that triggered the protest by the Bayelsa APC which viewed the action of the federal government as contrary to the provision of the act that set up the commission.
The newly appointed SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, however denied extending the tenure of the present board of the commission.
Mustapha’s clarification came on the heels of plan by the Senate to investigate an allegation made by Senator Emmanuel Paulker (PDP Bayelsa) alleging that the state was being short changed in the scheme of things.
Paulker had noted that section 4 of the act establishing the commission states that the office of the chairman be rotated among member states in alphabetical order.
He said the chairmanship started with Abia and has rotated in accordance up to Cross River State.
According to the arrangement, the chairmanship of the committee is supposed to move to Delta State by the end of 2017, he said.
Paulker added that the board currently headed by Victor Ndoma Egba, Cross-River-PDP was illegally extended by four years by the immediate past Acting Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Habiba Lawal.
The Senate had earlier mandated its committee on NDDC to carry out investigation on the allegation made by Senator Paulker via a motion moved to that effect on the floor of the Senate, declared that contrary to the clear provisions of Section 5 (3) of the NDDC Act, the tenure of the present board of the commission has been illegally extended to four years by the immediate past Acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr. Habiba Muda Lawal.
He added that section 5(2) of the Act dictates that board headed by Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, SAN serves out the remainder of the term of the board chaired by Senator Bassey Henshaw which will terminate in December 2017.
A submission that made the Senate to mandate its committee on NDDC to liaise with Mustapha to ascertain the facts of the matter.
But the SGF in a swift action via a letter signed by a permanent secretary, Dayo Apata denied any tenure elongation for the board members as alleged by Paulker.
In the letter titled: â€œRe: Clarification on the tenure of the governing board of NDDCâ€, he said that the Ndoma Egba headed board was not a continuation of the dissolved one headed by Bassey Henshaw.
He said: â€œSection 5(2) of the act refers to a situation where a vacancy occurs as a result of any of the provisions of section 5(1) of the act as opposed to when the entire board is dissolved. In this case, the previous board was dissolved and its tenure extinguished.
â€œDissolution of the board cannot be categorised as a vacancy under the act. Dissolution signifies total extinguishment of the board, it simply ceases to exist and there cannot be any remainder of any term which a successor is expected to complete.
â€œThere has to be a fresh composition of the board for a fresh term of four years .Therefore the letters of appointment stating that they were to complete the remainder of the tenure of the previous board is of no effect as the words in a letter cannot override the express provisions of an actâ€.
As it is, the unfolding crisis was caused by the federal government. The question is, didn’t the former Acting SGF consult the legal department before issuing letters for the completion of the tenure of those removed?
A judicial interpretation may be required to determine who is right between the past SGF and the new one.
Whether the threat by the militant group was a mere coincidence with the protest letter is not immediately clear.